Diapers & Dressage – Tough Choices and Heart Horses

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I will always hold this picture close to my heart. Grace is such a beautiful soul, and I am so thankful we captured this a few days before delivering her to her new home.

By Erin Tupper

Grace.  She is my heart horse.  The love of my life and the mare I will forever hold on a pedestal.  She is gorgeous; an elegant seal bay, she looks like she stepped out of one of the classic horse paintings.  She is tough, but sensitive. Try to boss her around or get in her face and she will put up a wall, take your time and be fair and she will give you her all. I would do anything for her.  

Grace is my heart horse, but she is no longer my horse.  When I said I would do anything for her, I meant it.  And that is why she is no longer mine.  

She had always been a tough ride.  Sometimes overly sensitive, she defaulted to tense.  As we bounced our way up and down the lower levels of the training scale, it became an emotional roller coaster.  I was riding five days a week, until she was off for a couple of months in the winter.  She was so tight in her body we thought she had fallen in the pasture.  Bodywork, chiro, and acupuncture were a regular thing.  Finally, by early spring, she was feeling like herself again. It was a sign of what was to come.

This past winter she was diagnosed with mild to moderate kissing spine.  All I could think was, “this explains EVERYTHING.”  One day, talking with my best friend, I had an emotional breakthrough.  I cried.  I realized that a large part of me always thought we couldn’t progress further because of me.  That I wasn’t capable.  That I couldn’t bring out more in her. 

Talking with our vet, she assured me it was far from a career ending diagnosis and that with treatment and a well-structured riding plan, we could continue.  I thought about it, but knew I also had to listen to my heart.  I knew Grace wasn’t enjoying our training.  She may tolerate it, yes, but would she enjoy it?  And was it realistic to think I could keep up with a well-structured four to five day/week schedule?

The answer was no.  After lots of soul-searching, I had to confess to myself that now was not the right time for me to be able to do that.  Spending thousands on treatment for a 17-year-old horse that probably wouldn’t progress past First Level, but could be comfortable doing other things, hardly seemed fair.  It wouldn’t be fair to her and it wouldn’t be fair to my family.  That’s a lot of money, and I couldn’t bring myself to ask that of my husband.   He has remained steadfast in his support of my riding, but this was too much.  

I knew I didn’t have the time.  With an infant at home, I finally accepted that it wasn’t realistic to think  I could go back to my five day per week riding schedule.  Maybe for a bit, but I had to admit to myself that right now, with a baby, it wouldn’t be sustainable.  

Grace is now living her best life with her new person. It brings me such comfort knowing someone else gets to experience the same joy she brought me.. and that she is getting spoiled rotten as a part-time trail horse!

And so I chose to retire Grace.  She had given me everything, and this was a gift I wanted to give her.  Yes, it was the most realistic option.  But more than that, I wanted to give back to her what she had given me.  Unconditional love and sheer joy.

I found the perfect woman for her, someone I know and trust.  She was looking for a horse she could hack around on, hand graze, and spoil rotten.  At the same time, I put out into the world that I was looking to re-home Grace.  We connected, and I silently pleaded, from the depths of my soul, that it would work out.  She has had her for a couple months and every time she tells me about her she beams.  It is truly more than I could have ever hoped for.

Sometimes making the right decision is also the hardest decision.  It’s not as easy as it once was, when our decisions only affected ourselves (or so we thought).  When we didn’t have partners to think about, and for some of us, children as well.  When we had nothing but time and we could live off ramen and cucumbers if it meant dumping all our money into our horse.  I wouldn’t change it for anything, and have found that although difficult, it also makes it a clearer choice in the end.  

Read Erin’s next story here.

Read Erin’s other stories Diapers & Dressage and The Challenge of Getting Back in the Saddle  Follow Erin on her Instagram page @diapersanddressage

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